Mar 25 2018
Mar 25

Digital agencies will sooner or later find themselves in a situation when they will face a project where their resources will be overextended or that the platform won't match the expertise of their in-house team. When situations like that arise, you will probably go out and try to find a remote partner. And that is by no means an easy and straight-forward endeavour. So what are the best ways to work and grow your remote partnerships? 

The first step would obviously be to accept and embrace the idea that working with a remote team is a good thing. You keep your agency's workflow going, no need for shelving projects and simplifying resource management. 

Of course, you would want to grow your in-house developmental team and agency as a whole, so working with a remote team could prove itself useful in your own dealings with HR. You can take your time selecting and cherry picking who would you want to add to your team. Naturally, you would want for new in-house team members to know how to code, but sometimes it is equally, if not even more, important for you they culturally fit in. And how do you that? By extending your culture to new employees. 

It should be the same with your remote team. We at AGILEDROP are trying to make the process of integrating a developer into our client's team as painless as possible. And no adjustments of any sorts to be made on your side. 

 

The cultural fit

I'm aware it can be difficult at times to fully show your remote team what are you about. Culturally, I mean. It can be time-consuming and stressful but is very beneficial for a remote teammate to learn how your agency works, what is your culture, your way of doing things. And as they are becoming teammates, every remote worker will appreciate being integrated and feel as the one of the gang. Sure, they won't go with you on Friday to grab a beer, but they will spend a greater portion of the day with your team, so they would want to fit in. 

An equally important aspect of successfully managing a remote team is trust. In the past couple of months, I spoke to a lot of digital agency owners, and some of them have had not so positive experience utilizing remote teams or remote developers. And feelings like that don't go away easily and it can be difficult to establish trust. So start small, learn and scale. Your team can assess the performance of a remote partner. If things work out, great, you probably got a new partner for quite some time. If things are not working out so well, talk and communicate, see what are the issues and challenges. Take your time, star small, tweak the processes on the way and everything should work out just fine.  

You might ask: “if it needs so much effort, why not use that time to hire an in-house developer?” Here is where economy of scale comes in. Onboarding a person or a team from AGILEDROP is the one-time investment that applies to any future developers and projects.

remote

 

The tools you use and processes you follow

A question that comes up virtually every time we talk to a potential customer is: "What do you use? Slack? Jira?" And we have the simplest answer possible: "We use what you use." From a technical standpoint, things are pretty straightforward, and it is not the job of a remote team to disrupt the processes which are already in place at an agency. And obviously function quite fine. So, if we all know what to use and how to use it, the failure or the success of communication and PM tools lies in how and for what people use them. 

It's the same with the processes. They are put in place because they work. The process, defined as a set of activities that interact to achieve a goal is about communication. In the same manner, as a PC operates by getting commands from a person sitting behind the screen and then starting different processes and interactions inside the machine to deliver the desired outcome, people working on a project interact with each other to navigate the team towards the end result. 

 

Facetime and the lack of it

Meeting you remote teammates would definitely be beneficial. It can be difficult but risking a day or two and a couple of hundreds of Euros needs to be seen more as an investment and not treated as a cost. Or you can connect online for a beer or a meal. And spend some quality time together and deepen the bonds in the team. From our experience, people from both sides want to know more about people they're working with and spending a substantial portion of the day. 

There are benefits to engaging a remote team. Either it can save you money. Or you make more money out of it. If for instance, you get a large contract which needs to be attended to in a couple of weeks and you don't have enough in-house capacities, a strong and reliable remote team can do the work. And there are some strategic advantages of partnering up with a remote team. 

Working closely with digital agencies and helping them at delivering over 200 enterprise-level projects we've learned what are the most common reasons for being reluctant to engage with a remote team. Or more specifically, our remote team. And on most occasions, voicing your concerns about how would it function, how to mitigate the risks, proved to be the step in the right direction. Get in touch, we'd like to learn more about how would you want to engage with a remote team.

Mar 16 2018
Mar 16

When you are in the business of selling services or expertise, you will face competition. Nowadays a global competition where (y)our competitors take on various shapes and sizes. So when an organisation goes on the market looking for certain services, this organisation probably has a predefined set of requirements for the provider. These can change over time, but some basics are set at the beginning. 

 

What is the client actually buying?

There are at least three factors that influence the buying process at the organisation which needs a new website. The first one is the organisation itself. The set of requirements eliminates your agency from competing either based on geographical reasons (we would want to work with a local company) either on the size of the agency (we would want to work with a bigger agency, which understands our challenges better). They would want a website in AEM or Sitecore - a Drupal agency can't help with that. The delivery time is unreasonably short, and so on. Those are the factors you have none or very limited influence on. The next one is your competition. We have to assume that the potential client's requirements allow you to compete. You are faced with quite a diverse competition. You can leave to your competitors to fight for the project any way they want. As long as it is legal and morally acceptable, of course. But sooner or later it will come down to one thing - the pricing. And from my experiences better later than sooner. In the case the client is serious. And sooner if you can assume with great probability that the client is looking for the cheapest possible solution. 

meeting

 

The price war and why would you want to avoid it

There is no need for you to disclose (detailed) data about your pricing at an early stage of the buying process, you should start talking about pricing at the end when the client is already aware of all the things you are bringing to the table. You will instantly be pulled into a price war, into something you probably didn't even intend to find yourself in. When I was working in the sales consulting business years ago, I remember a case when a Slovenian machine manufacturing company found success in one of the most competitive markets, in Sweden. The CEO of the Swedish company asked for a discount. The manufacturer came to us to ask us how to respond. We talked for a while, tried to get as much information as possible and realized that the Swedes really want someone from the manufacturer of the machines to come onsite when those will be installed. And that was it. Slovenian company offered to be on-site at installing, to guarantee that everything will run smoothly. No discount but offering more value for the same price. And it paid off, the costs of providing employees for two weeks were substantially lower than the discount would be.

 

business guy

 

What are your options?

Well, if it comes down to pricing, you have two options. Either you do play the game, or you don't. I wouldn't advise you to take the path of entangling yourself in the price war but instead find a way of how you will present the value of your services, your knowledge and expertise to your client. Or maybe some other little perks you know they will mean a lot to your client. Dig deep and ask questions, take notes and incorporate into your proposals those little perks also. Because those are the ones that eventually can make a difference. 

And not to forget, clients are very eager to compare prices and eliminate the higher ones. Apples and oranges, you just can't compare them. Sure, you can compare prices, but what usually is true that if you pay more, you get more. Or better, or faster. You just have to find out what is that more, or better, or faster the client is looking for. Or even go further and try to find out what seems to be client's biggest challenge. That is how you provide the value for their business, and they will acknowledge the price - higher than your competitors - and value of your services and expertise. 

It is definitely a sign of good work when clients come back to you. Even though you are not the cheapest. But it is a sign that we provide value with our services, a value which our clients appreciate and understand it in the way it also builds their own business. Let us know what kind of value are you looking for.

Mar 06 2018
Mar 06

Bowen Craggs & Co is a UK based research and consultancy group which is focused solely on online corporate communications - websites, social media and social channels. A very short introduction of what they do is to be found on their website. In short, they review, measure, and advise how to make the websites and social media channels better for businesses and customers. 

To measure that they developed a Bowen Craggs Index of Online Excellence which was designed as a guide to the best in internet corporate communications. But it is not so much about communications as it is about marketing. Marketing the whole enterprise, not just the products or services it sells. The corporate website will be visited by many different profiles, including job seekers, potential and existing customers, employees, journalists, governments,  and also investors and partner companies. We can talk about a common marketing ground which is engaging its users through various channels. 

The list of all 30 companies which fared the best in the Index of Online Excellence is to be found here

 

The methodology behind results

The company reviews worlds biggest companies by market capitalization and looks for those which use their websites and social media channels most effectively for online communications. The key indicators for positioning companies and their respective online presences are:

  1. Construction: it covers navigation, user orientation, web and social media integration, internal search, and web visibility;
  2. Message: it covers the strength of the homepage, visual impact, internationalism and company information;
  3. Contact: openness to dialogue and easy-to-navigate contact pages
  4. Serving society: covering corporate governance, service for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) professionals;
  5. Serving investors: the richness and accessibility of materials in which investors and analysts are likely to be interested;
  6. Serving the media: providing rich and up-to-date provisions for journalists; 
  7. Serving job seekers: maintaining and guaranteeing a strong employer brand to attract candidates, effective browsing experience;
  8. Serving customers: ensuring smooth consumer journeys.

If we try to tie the loose ends and allow ourselves to connect the prerequisites of an ambitious digital experience and indicators used for “calculating” the index of online excellence we can make some conclusions.

business meeting

 

A short reminder about ambitious websites

What are ambitious websites then? They have a custom business logic, a unique model and they just have to move part of their operations online. Then there is the user experience which needs to be customized in order to serve all the stakeholders a business has. UX for a job seeker or an investor need to be tailored so it fits best both of these profiles. Another vital aspect of an ambitious website is integrations. Those come in many forms and functionalities but their main purpose is to serve the goals the organizations has set itself. Whether it is a marketing automation system which should be connected to company’s CRM to reduce errors and save time at data entry. Or you want to engage with your sports club fans in order to offer them a personalized experience. 

 

How did Drupal do?

Well, from all the 30 companies which made it on the list only two websites are built in Drupal. By far the most represented CMS is Adobe Experience Manager. What to think of it? 

Well, it is true that ambitious doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest enterprises out there. But it is sure that having an extensive portfolio of clients which are members of the biggest companies by market capitalization can be useful. And beneficial for all those which are building websites in Drupal. Having a list of strong references can sometimes be a great opener at the beginning of the sales process or it can prove itself to be valuable at the latter stages of sales process when talking to potential clients. Either way, ask yourself a question with whom would you rather work, a company or a technology which has an extensive reference list of its clients or the company which to date managed to deliver less than a handful of projects on such a scale?

We at AGILEDROP have dealt with a lot of aspects of ambitious digital experiences in the past years. Collected experiences which we are willing to pass along. Get in touch if you would like to utilize the obtained knowledge in your projects also.

Jan 30 2018
Jan 30

The way we work is constantly changing. The possibility to work remotely or distributed is something that has been with us for a long time. Even before the industrial revolution people tended to work at home. All professions we knew back in the time were working from their home. With the advent of the industrial revolution that has begun to change. Our ancestors were starting to work in organisations. The divide between what is home and what is workplace was getting deeper. As we developed more and more, our needs were bigger and bigger. 

 

From shoes to cars 

It may sound a little bit funny, but when working from home or at home, your needs are probably not that big comparing it to daily commutes to the office to conduct the same business. Let's say a person takes a train to get to the office, but still, there is a couple of hundred meters of walking. Between the station and office and station and home. The shoes get worn out, and you need to replace them. Probably a lot sooner than in the case you could work from home. As effectively as from the office. Your other daily routines don't change, the only difference is that you don't go to work. Or, let's take a car. If people would think and decide rationally I believe that a car in the family could last a lot longer, not just a couple of years. There is data available on average age of road vehicles per country in Europe which reveals that the average age of a passenger car in the EU is around eight years. Give or take a couple of months. For the sake of the argument, let's assume people replace their old cars with new models because of the fact they are worn out. They don't work anymore. Or they are too expensive to maintain. In reality, some people replace their old car with a new model of the same car every two years, some people don't get to buy a new car, and so on. But, if no daily commute from home to work and back is to be done, one is to assume those same cars would be preserved better. With less mileage, fewer expenses for repairs and service, less stress put on the vital parts of the vehicle, those cars could be in our possession for longer periods of time. Again, under the assumption, we decide rationally when it comes to cars. In reality, I believe that even if we did work from home all the time, we probably would not think about buying a couple of pairs of shoes less per year or replacing our car every ten or more years decade, and not in six or seven years time. 

 

working remotly

 

Why not, if there is mutual trust?

The perks of working remotely at least from my standpoint are hidden somewhere else. The company I work enables all employees to work remotely. Because it trusts them the job will be done. And also because it respects the work-life balance. In my case, I benefit regardless of the season. In spring and autumn when the days are getting shorter and longer bike rides during the week are becoming impossible, working remotely means a lot. I can grab something to eat during the day knowing I don't have to drive to get to my home for up to an hour, I can be on my bike in a matter of minutes after I have completed my daily assignments and the workday has ended. If I had to drive, I would have been left with no more than two hours of moderate daylight or even dusk. In the summer you can be off to the coast and reach one of the nearby places just in time to take a dive into the ocean during the day. If no possibility of working remotely I wouldn't have that option, as I would lose precious two hours of time driving back and forth. And ever since the birth of my son, he is going to be four in March, I can't imagine spending as much time as possible with him and watching him grow up and experience what is happening around him. Those are some of the benefits of working remotely have on my work-life balance. There are no wrongs or rights here. 

Every business owner has to decide for herself/himself if that is something that would work for their company. Not just work, because I believe there is ample evidence to prove that, but also be beneficial. For the employees, for the company culture, and in the end also for the company. Of course, there can also be downsides to working remotely, but if you instead focus on the positive, I'm confident the positives greatly outweigh the negatives. 

We have an abundance of experience working remotely with diverse teams from different countries. Whether you are thinking about if and how you would embrace remote workers, or you are considering to go all-remote-in (alluding to all-in from gambling) we have the processes and tools in place to get you the results. Reach out to see how we mastered the concept of remote work.

Photo by Mitchel Lensink on Unsplash

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

 

Jan 17 2018
Jan 17

There were five pieces altogether written about ambitious Drupal experiences. Each of them focused on a single subject of what constitutes an ambitious digital experience. In the first part of the series, I did my best to explain what ambitious digital experiences mean. The main conclusion, at least in my opinion, is that experience is much more than just mere content. And ambitious digital experiences should come as natural and intuitive as possible. And be focused on the customers, on the users. 

Provide valuable and unique digital experiences

I have tried to define the term customer experience as an element of digital experience, the latter being a much broader term. Customer experiences are definitely the ones that drive businesses forward, but it seems that by focusing only on them we miss out something. Especially if we take into account the content, scale, and volume that customer experience management can't cover. It seems that digital experience management can cope with managing customer experiences and add some extras to the equation. IoT, Industry 4.0, VR and AR being just a few of them who would have an irretrievable effect on the digital experiences of a not so distant future. As a matter of fact, some of them are already here. 

Closely connected to an ever-expanding area of digital experiences is what and why integrate something into your existing online presence or a new one if building it. We are leaving our footprints and fingerprints behind every time we engage in the digital arena. We are all users in that digital arena, potential customers looking for items, products, solutions. And like in the B2C environment, the same can and should be applied also to the B2B environment. Marketing automation tools, CRM systems, ERPs, are the fundamentals. 

 

What are the opportunities in Industry 4.0?

When considering Industry 4.0 the integrations should go even deeper. Autonomous robots who can communicate with each other and with people are already a reality. Same goes for collection and evaluation of data from many different sources. For example, production systems on the one hand and enterprise and customer management systems on the other side. Simulation and horizontal and vertical system integration are also one of the building blocks of Industry 4.0. Rarely are companies, suppliers and customers closely linked today. Companies, departments, functions, and capabilities will become more cohesive and by evolving universal data-integration networks truly automated value chains will be enabled. More and more systems and applications will be deployed to the cloud, production systems will benefit from data-driven services with a reaction time of several milliseconds. Due to increasing interconnectedness, the need to protect vital industrial systems and production lines from cybersecurity threats will increase dramatically. Augmented reality will also be used more and more in future years. The employees, users, and buyers will be involved in a much broader use of AR, which will provide real-time information to improve decision-making and all work-related procedures. 

usb

 

Not to forget about new regulations on data protection and privacy

But as we will all be more and more a part of interconnected digital worlds and agendas the need for safeguarding the personal data of every individual is becoming more and more important. The amount of data that will be travelling through optic fibres every second will be enormous and all that data should be taken care with the utmost care and highest standards of security. However, when the companies will fully embrace the idea of Industry 4.0 the data will be stored in the cloud and when needed making its way to users will be surely greatly protected from possible cybersecurity threats. As they should be. And because the personal data will also be stored in the same system, it will be treated with the same standards. 

To sum it up, ambitious digital experiences are definitely the way to go. I covered some of the aspects that kind of experiences should entail - I'm making no illusions I covered all of them. And I do believe that the Drupal community is more than capable to address any of them. Those which are already here and we know about them and those who are hiding just behind the corner. 

We at AGILEDROP have dealt with a lot of aspects of ambitious digital experiences in the past years. Collected experiences which we are willing to pass along. Get in touch if you would like to utilize the obtained knowledge in your projects also. 

Jan 11 2018
Jan 11

When taking steps in the digital arena footprints are left behind. While browsing websites or when accepting the terms of use of a certain application, data is stored. Data that contains sensitive and personal information (IP address is also a personal information). That is why EU is imposing a new set of rules in the form of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The goal of GDPR is to protect EU citizens from privacy and data breaches in a world never so digitally connected as it is now. The directive was first established in 1995, we have to bear in mind that a lot has changed since then.

Who do we trust our personal data with?

I had the pleasure to watch a "funny" video a couple of weeks ago, which tried to demonstrate how would accepting terms of use of a digital app look like in an analogue world. People were - to put it mildly - astounded when asked for data about them, which they share in the digital world with just one click. Let's assume you download an app which, prior to installing, demands access to identity, contacts, SMS, media, camera, microphone, device ID & call information. You have a choice not to accept that kind of terms, but you won't be able to use the app. But as like with previous 83 apps you downloaded to your phone, you do the same for the 84th time and accept the terms. Great. Now let's see how this will play out in an analogue, physical world. You come to a store, want to buy something. A product, or an app. But you have to deal with a person behind the counter and share all those sensitive information with a person. You will probably be quite reluctant to share your contacts with this person. But we have no problems doing that digitally. In each of those cases, all this information about you, your phone, your contacts, locations you visited, what you bought using the phone, is stored somewhere. To be used later. For some purposes.

personal data

More rights for users

The data will still be collected and stored, but there will be made some important amends to how one will give consent and the possibility to withdraw that consent will be introduced. Even more, the language of the consent will have to be given in a clear and plain language.

Other important rights will include:

  1. Breach notifications will become mandatory in all member states where a data breach is likely to result in a risk for the rights and freedoms of individuals. 
  2. We as subjects will have the right to demand a confirmation from data controllers whether the personal data about us is being processed and for what purpose. A data controller is a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other bodies which, alone or jointly with others, determine the purposes and means of the processing of personal data. 
  3. The data erasure or the right to be forgotten entitles each subject to request the data controller to erase the personal data, stop with the further dissemination of the data and also stops third parties from further exploiting the data. 
  4. Data portability means that the subject has the right to receive the personal data concerning them and also having the right to transmit that data to another controller. 
  5. A concept of privacy by design has existed for a couple of years now, but only now with the GDPR becomes a legal requirement. This means that data protection should be included from the onset of designing a system. And not just adding it later. The concept of data minimization is also added, meaning that controllers should hold on and process only the data necessary for the completion of its duties. And they should also limit the access to personal data to processors. To clarify, a processor is a natural or legal person, public authority, agency or other bodies which processes personal data on behalf of the controller.

personal data

What is expected to be done?

GDPR is much more than just a set of technical solutions. It has deeper and broader implications and extends itself also on organizational, legal and process level. There are no shortcuts to be GDPR compliant, but it shouldn't be too complicated either. There isn't, and probably won't be, a single, generic solution for all "needs". However, it is to expect that further work on GDPR module will be done and new features added. The download count is still quite low, but we should wait to see what happens. 

But one can't expect a one size fits all solution. Each individual Drupal website will need a tailored solution to be GDPR compliant. The list of what to do to be compliant is quite extensive. Instead, I will focus myself on what not to do, what are the practices you should avoid by all means:

  1. Users agree on a certain scope of purposes the data about them will be used. Don't use the data for purposes users haven't agreed to. 
  2. Collecting too much information about your users could present a violation. You should collect only the data you absolutely need. If not delivering someone goods you probably don't need their home address. 
  3. Logging personal data is another on a not-to-do list. It would definitely be a hassle to get rid of the personal data from log files, but you should find a way. Personal data includes also the IP address.
  4. If you assume 3rd parties are compliant, stop. It is your responsibility if there is a breach in one of the 3rd parties or processors you send data to. 
  5. Having an ISO 27001 certification is a good start, but it doesn't guarantee compliance. Other measures and activities also to be taken into consideration. 

Websites will have to comply with new regulations and (re)consider how they gather data and for what purpose and also the storage functionality. This could involve a substantial amount of work and database changes. But because of the non-compliance fines which are quite high, one will have to invest in it.

If you have a Drupal website, have clear guidance about what needs to be changed, and you are unsure about how to make the necessary technical and developmental changes, then please get in touch and see how we can help.

Dec 27 2017
Dec 27

We covered three aspects of what is to be considered as ambitious digital experiences. The first blog post of the series focused on defining the integral parts of such experiences, the second post dug a little deeper into interaction channels of digital experiences and the third post dealt with integrations and Drupal.

The fourth post in the series will refer to how important is to also address the challenge of user experience in the process of delivering an ambitious digital experience. UX should definitely cover more than just branding and design. In my opinion, the engines which are running under the hood of design are the important ones, the ones we should be focusing on. Why?

There should be a purpose behind it all

There is absolutely nothing wrong with websites which we can't identify as being ambitious. This can happen due to various reasons. The budget doesn't allow for going bigger and deeper, maybe the company is satisfied with a brochure site which offers basic information and a contact form, or perhaps they do not see the value having a website which we could call ambitious. That kind of websites will serve a certain purpose, it just isn’t ambitious. Great design can be just great if there is nothing running in the background. And a great design doesn't guarantee a great user experience. The latter definitely being of the vital elements of an ambitious digital experience. And there is money in it. Have you ever stumbled upon a great deal in an online shop, decided to buy it, just to find out in the process of buying the item it would be quite a hassle to fight your way through all the information that has to be entered into the system and how do you want to make your payment. On more occasions, the great deal was not so great anymore. Let's say the online retailer did manage to drive my behavior in such a way I visited its website - but only due to the low price or availability of the product - but later failed miserably. The UX was there because you can’t have a UX. Of some sorts. Let’s say you don’t have the UX as a feature of your website. You still have the UX which is bad. There is no hiding from that fact. 

You go to a physical store, and you know you will probably have to wait in line. Of course, there’s also the possibility that the desired product is no longer available. So you wait in line to find out you waited for nothing. When buying online, we want to avoid such events. Can you imagine how worse is the experience if the same thing happens to you while buying online? You don't physically stand in a line, but you hoped for a smooth, intuitive, seamless experience. And after you didn't get what you hoped for, you go away. Not even a great bargain can convince you to stay and work your way through because this is not something you expected.

UX

Why is a great UX an investment

According to research conducted by Podium, 68% of customers are willing to pay 15% more for a better experience. I believe that is something no business, no matter what industry it's active in, shouldn't take seriously and consider what that additional revenue could mean for the company. If we turn our attention back to the aforementioned online retailer with lousy UX and great bargains. If there are also other people like me who really dislike bad UX, the company loses money daily. People with the intent to buy something will go somewhere else, either they'll find a physical shop or some other online retailer. 

In the UK alone 50 billion £ yearly are lost in online retailing to poor accessibility. The latter being an element of responsive web design. As customers are always on the go, and smartphones enabled us to do everything, and more than a PC or a laptop allowed us a couple of years ago, responsive web design is a must for UX to be considered as ambitious. And it shouldn't be just about a layout on a page, it would also have to be about simplifying and creating such an experience someone would want to come back and use it again. Or go even a couple of steps further and invite and allow your customers to co-develop and co-author the UX. 

We barely scratched the surface of what a difference a UX can make by depicting my own experiences with online retailers. Obviously, I talked about B2C users, customers. In a B2B and B2G world, UX goes way deeper and broader. UX can cover a variety of elements and should use diverse channels of interaction to achieve the desired outcomes. According to Peter Morville, author of several books on UX, there are seven factors that describe user experience: 

  1. Useful - an art piece or a video game are also useful as they deliver non-practical benefits. 
  2. Usable - if the product in question enables users to achieve their objectives. 
  3. Findable - the product must be easy to find when talking about the digital world we also mean the content to be easily findable.
  4. Credible - a user has to trust that the provided product will carry out its function and serve its needs.
  5. Desirable - if you could choose between a Hyundai and a Mercedes - both for free - which one would you choose? Desirability operates on an emotional level.
  6. Accessible - you should provide experiences which are accessible to all people regardless of their health status.
  7. Valuable - a product or a solution to be valuable must create value. For everyone involved, the maker, the seller, the buyer.
     

There are things you shouldn't forget

By far the strangest thing that happened to me regarding UX was an unfortunate development of a sales process for one of my previous business associates. The company from manufacturing sector which was consulted in the sales by the firm I was employed at the time finally managed to get some meeting with more respected potential clients. This one potential client, a really huge one, already started talking to the company's representatives, but the prospect went cold really fast after the initial start. Which was very decent. The reason, potential client's representative strolled through LinkedIn and was greatly dissatisfied with the company's presence on social networking service. Bad UX? Definitely. 

If you would like to hear more about what entails an ambitious user experience, let us know. We are more than open to share our knowledge and help you with your UX. 

Dec 20 2017
Dec 20

While the first blog post of the series covered the meaning of words ambitious and digital experiences both as singular and combined entities, and the second blog post was dedicated to channels of communication and interaction, I will now turn the attention over to the possibilities of integrations with Drupal. 

 

How small is too small

There is quite a substantial gap between what is characterized as for the enterprise and as for an ambitious digital experience. The latter is far broader. In more than one way. The most obvious being, as it is not just for the enterprise, you can also focus on SMB's, charities, NGO's, educational and governmental institutions. However, Drupal has been strong also with clients from those sectors. There are digital agencies which specialized working only with charities, there are those who dedicated themselves working only or predominantly with clients whose projects are big enough it pays them off to deliver them. To still be profitable. But again, it depends on the size of the agency. Bigger agencies would want bigger projects, while smaller agencies will be satisfied with smaller projects. As long as they are ambitious, I would add. And how can they be ambitious from the integrations point of view?

 

What is there to integrate? And why?

Services a website can integrate with are various. And can range from accounting to project management and marketing to lead generation. Or more complex, as is the case with Wilson Sporting Goods where Drupal and Magento are paired together. Every one of potential clients will probably decide for itself what integrations to use. Or which will be beneficial to the company. This is where the digital agency has to step in. We do want to know what the client wants to do with the website. We have to prepare the client to open up and give us answers to what does it believe the online presence should bring. And it is vital to discuss that with clients, but not on a technology level, but in terms of gains, the company will have. The ROI of such an investment should also be addressed? And yes, the digital agency will have to get familiar with the underlying business logic of the clients it is facing in order to fully understand their wishes and needs and come up with the best possible solution. The discussions with potential clients should generate such an interest in them that website can be more than just a website. It can be a lead generation tool, it can be a platform for communicating with fans, it can serve as customer support,... But never forget the UX behind it and the digital experience in the making. 

 

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A case study of a great digital experience

I enjoyed reading Inviqa's Myles Davidson's blog on how Arsenal F.C. engages their fans. I'll do just a quick recap of how the fan engagement is perceived by Arsenal's John Dollin. Connected to more or less obvious integrations on the clubs’ website. The most obvious one is, of course, social media and engaging the fans via this channel. The next one is data. How can you use the data you collect about your fans to even further their engagement? What to say when the results are not so good, how to reach out to fans when they are dissatisfied with something and maintain their levels of activity? As fan behaviors tend to change, Arsenal invested also in CRM for more personalized experiences. By taking the data fans share you feed your CRM and then use that to help you engage with them and create personalized experiences. But underneath it all there has to be a strong vision of what is it to be achieved. 

So, if we now should talk about an ambitious SMB active in B2B from an EU country which is deciding to revamp its online presence to better serve its business which is more than 95% conducted abroad. It is not a real-life case, albeit a possible one. The CEO is quite open to introducing new technologies to his business, so he is open to an idea of a website which I would characterize as an ambitious digital experience. Open, but he didn't buy it yet. He heard from business associates how are they able to attract leads via their website, how great does marketing automation work and how simple is the CRM to use. So just building a website with Drupal CMS suddenly isn't the top priority but it becomes a tool through which the client will get the desired marketing and sales tools. Which are integrated into its online presence to generate leads, to convert them into qualified sales leads and follow the journey of each and every potential client since its first visit to the website to the moment the contract is signed. As with the case of Arsenal fans who do leave valuable footprints when engaging with their club which then amounts to loads of data. The data which is currently being utilized to its fullest only by US-based organizations. Similar is the case with our SMB. The footprints its customers leave behind are to be picked up, leads targeted on a personalized level, the data stored in CRM which is connected to ERP. All of which propel the company towards better sales results. And the ROI of investing in a website, or better said, ambitious digital experience, should be something the CEO of aforementioned SMB should and can brag to his colleagues.
 

We gained a lot of experience working with different clients on different projects needing various integrations. Contact us, and we can share an experience or two.

Dec 13 2017
Dec 13

In my previous blog post, I discussed the meaning of the words ambitious and digital experiences both as singular and combined entities. I have dedicated the second part of this blog post to ambitious digital experiences, and will focus on some of the more specific elements of those digital experiences we can call ambitious. As Dries noted in one of his posts, ambitious aligns with flexibility, scalability, speed and creative freedom that Drupal provides. The projects can be ambitious because of their scale and complexity, security requirements, the number of sites, or specialized requirements of the project. According to Dries, the organizations who turn to Drupal expect to and do indeed get delivered a number of "features". Among them are greater flexibility and usability, deeper integrations and faster innovations. With this, you get so much more than just the content. 

In this blog post, I will also cover the channels of communication and interaction rather than just publishing content on websites. I would like to stress again, there are agencies who are well aware of the fact that their clients' presence in the digital arena is not enough. Not anymore. A digital presence, i.e. websites can and should be doing more than just informing customers, clients, prospects or any audience for that matter. 

Digital experiences are not in the future

This may sound like a cliché, but they are already here, and have been so for quite some time now. I remember working for a company in Slovenia fifteen years ago; they were trying to build an online address book that contained basic contact information about individual entrepreneurs in the country. The added value we had to present to them was the offer of building a website, their own unique online presence. It was hard enough convincing them to become part of the address book, so you can imagine their reaction when we started discussing their prospective website! "No, no, that's nonsense, people have my number and they can call me when they need something. I don't need a website, no one will find me there." This was one of the most common answers I received when talking to an independent entrepreneur. Well, things changed. The customers did too.

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Digital experience channels

If we look at the digital experience channels which companies still use and would potentially use in the not so distant future in the chronological order of their emergence in the market, we can outline several of them. The importance of some of them is slowly fading away, while others are not yet universally accepted. 

The most common one is definitely email; albeit it is safe to assume its role is slowly diminishing because of the simple fact that there are richer communication options available. 

Non-responsive websites without the possibility of easily managing content and engaging both the company and customer are outdated. If a website would want to classify itself as being an ambitious digital experience, it would at least have had to link to other related digital experiences, like social networks, mobile apps, and be ready to integrate virtual third party assets as mobile advertising.

Then there is digital advertising. Ads generate potential customers and lead them to other digital experiences which altogether support the creation of shared value. With digital advertising, it is also possible to monetize existing visitor traffic. 

High-value engagement between businesses and their customers is reached via online communities and it is of vital importance to define the community correctly early on in the process,  and develop a foundation for digital engagement across all channels. 

Using API's & third party apps can be a very powerful and successful strategy for organizations, as they can't and should not develop all the digital experiences that their customers expect. Let someone do that for you.

Being present on all of the major social media platforms is mandatory because of this simple fact; social media and networking channels are the richest in their content and reach, and they create the most value out of all digital channels. But it is also necessary to connect and coordinate social channels with organizations other digital experiences. 

If at first one thought that mobile applications will somehow "cannibalize" the website channel, they have proven themselves over time to be able to provide new exciting ways of digital experiences, especially where websites are not the strongest, like location, video, and voice. 

Let’s talk about voice and gesture. We met Apple's Siri in 2011 for the first time and it showed us how a verbal conversation could be one element of a digital experience. However, it never really became "mainstream", if I may say so. The same also goes for the gesture. If I were to bet, I would do so on voice. It is the same with wearables which are a very niche product, and industries connected with human health and sports activity have to stay on top of things. 

Now onto Internet of Things and Industry 4.0. The latter is a name for the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, and includes cyber-physical systems, the IoT, cloud computing and cognitive computing. With the projected global market value of over $7 trillion in 2020, one should be very careful in setting up a digital experience channel which is interacting with so many connected devices. The main challenge will be how to make IoT experiences effective, seamless and, of course, useful.

Augmented and virtual reality are likely to revolutionize digital experiences, by making them more immersive and visually interactive. It is still in its early stages but it seems like the critical mass is already building up. When the technology matures enough, both the AR and VR could be a very popular way of digitally engaging customers. 

Bots and smart agents are the newest technology and are most likely to be the leading model for the next-generation digital experience. 

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Who adopts and who would want to adopt Drupal

The Drupal community is ambitious, and so are the clients who are adopting the technology. The industry we are involved in is in constant flux, it is changing constantly and we need to find ways to address all of the challenges. And we do. Responsive design, social media, IoT, web services, to name just a few of them. 

Given the complexity of ambitious digital experiences, it is no surprise that a few years ago, customer experience management vendors Adobe and Sitecore were the frontrunners to which organizations could outsource the handling of established and emerging digital channels. However, customer experience is not a digital experience and it seems that CEM is lacking in something in terms of content, scale and the volume it can cover. So we should turn our attention to DEM, digital experience management, add the adjective ambitious to it and stick to it on the future path. 

If there is some aspect or some channel of digital experience you could use some assistance with, reach out. We have extensive experience in working with them.

Dec 04 2017
Dec 04

Since Dries' keynote at the DrupalCon in Vienna how Drupal is for ambitious digital experiences, it became somehow more obvious how does its founder see the future. And what the agencies should focus on in a more than ever competing world of content management systems. Although we have to admit that some of the agencies already embraced the idea of building their businesses on delivering such digital experiences. 

So what does differentiate ambitious digital experiences from, let's say, websites? Or "just plain" digital experiences? And what qualities an ambitious digital experience has? It is by no means a simple endeavor to cover all the aspects of such an experience; this is why I will divide it into several parts. And try to cover as much as possible. But first I will start by clarifying the terms ambitious digital experiences one by one. I believe there is no need to lost too much space on Drupal, as we all know very well what is it capable of delivering. 

 

From ambition to ambitious

I don't want to dwell too long and try to figure out how Dries came about this idea but there had to be an underlying ambition. An ambition to steer Drupal (and agencies) in a direction where we would be able to differentiate ourselves. Not just from direct competitors but also from simpler SaaS solutions. So, there is a clearly defined and stated ambition by Dries what he thinks Drupal should aim for. And he is ambitious in achieving that. But the more important issue is that this ambition is also nurtured in digital agencies to embrace the idea and become (more) ambitious. Some of them have been already doing this, focusing their business on ambitious digital experiences, some of them embraced the idea but not fully incorporated it into its daily dealings with clients, and there are probably also some agencies who still cope with accepting it.

Back to ambitious. What do dictionaries say about this word? It is an adjective. And it can mean having a strong desire and determination to succeed. Some synonyms are motivated, eager, energetic, committed, driven, enterprising,... And the other meaning is connected to digital experience. A piece of work intended to satisfy high aspirations and also difficult to achieve. Bulls-eye. An ambitious digital experience for whatever client does have high aspirations, it does have a set of goals it wants to achieve with it and, of course, there is a lot at stake. But is it also difficult to achieve? Probably the harder part of this journey is getting clients who appreciate and utilize the value of such a digital experience. The technical part of delivering it should be the easier part of it. 

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Digital, experience, digital experience

Let's start with digital. The most obvious definition would be the opposite of analog. Digital involves or somehow relates to the use of information technology. Computers distinguish just two values, 0 and 1, so all the data that the computer processes must be encoded digitally. As a series of ones and zeros. But again, let's move away from the technology debate and focus instead on what digital should represent and what can deliver. Somehow that doesn't feel it is enough. We have to move away from simple definitions and focus not on what digital is but to understand it as a way of doing things. To create it more concrete McKinsey's Dörner and Edelman broke down this definition into three attributes:
1. creating value at the new frontiers of the business world, 
2. creating value in the processes that execute a vision of customer experiences, and 
3. building foundational capabilities that support the entire structure.

We will return to those three attributes at a later time. But with defining digital as a way of doing things we are coming closer to creating experiences. Any digital device is just a tool until used in such a manner it creates an experience. 

Let's look at what dictionaries say about the experience. It can be a noun or a verb. If noun it can mean these two things. First, it can mean a contact with and/or observation of facts or events. Second, an event which leaves an impression on someone. Let's stick with the simple for now and build up to a digital experience. 

If we just merge the meanings of two words and try to come up with the definition of our own, we could say that digital experience is an interaction that takes place between an organization and a user by the use of digital technologies. Gartner does not have a definition of digital experience (they do have DEM - a Digital experience monitoring which is defined as an availability and performance monitoring discipline), but according to Mick MacComascaigh digital experience can be regarded as: "a composite set of experiential elements — including content, design and functional elements — delivered over a digital channel that has the highest probability of prompting any of the desired set of predefined behaviors."

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Drupal and ambitious digital experiences

Content management systems play an important role in delivering digital experiences, but just managing the content does not deliver those ambitious experiences we want them. So we could move the debate away from what technology to use as a CMS to digital experience debate. For instance, when talking about a CMS, a question about the costs will be raised rather sooner than later. If we can talk about digital experiences we would probably not be talking about the cost, but about the ROI. And away from publishing content to communicating. From counting clicks and how easy-to-use it is to analyzing behavior and usability and learnability. From how efficient is a CMS to the effects of digital experience. 

Because in the end experience is much more than content. And best digital experiences should be natural, intuitive. And focused on the customers. 

I will focus on aspects or elements of ambitious digital experiences in the following blog posts. If you want to stay on top of it and deliver digital experiences focused on your clients' customers get in contact

Nov 27 2017
Nov 27

For us being trusted Drupal teammates, it is of vital importance how our clients approach their clients and involve them in the sales process of selling them Drupal. There are numerous ways how one can take this journey, but the desired outcome is definitely to sign a contract and land a new client. 

I will not write about what are the right and wrong approaches but instead, offer some insights from my career to date. Combining my decade-long experience in sales with some more theoretical findings of different sales techniques and methodologies it could come in handy when preparing your sales manuals.

 

When selling a product just isn't enough

B2B sales are getting more and more complex, and the customer is better equipped with information about your services than ever before in modern history. And they quite often know what they need. Or they believe so. When talking to them, and more importantly listening to them, you do find out that actually some of them know what they want, but the majority just thinks that they know what they want. Nevertheless, it is in the hands and words of a salesperson to get to the bottom of what the client wants. And what it needs. Those two can quite often be very apart. I have seen very often that salespersons made a critical mistake and making the first meeting about them and not about the client. The client already checked you out and knows what are you doing; you don't have to do that again.

From now on it should be about a client, what challenges it has, what do they want to achieve with their online presence, what are the goals and even why do they want to achieve that. What I'm about to write next might sound blasphemous. The client wants to have a CMS because they would want to update the content on their website. The answer, not necessarily the wrong one, could be: “Of course, Drupal can do that”. This can lead in at least two directions. The first one is favorable, and the client agrees. The second one and I believe the more probable one, is that it leads to a technology and ultimately price debate. We all know how that usually ends.

 

There is something also behind

I have to admit that our clients don't have it easy. But no one has in the business of selling. First, you have to deal with the competition which might do very similar things as you do, only at a cheaper price. And the client will most likely go for the cheaper. Second, the client. They would like a new website but don't know where to start.  Or they already have it, but it isn’t providing expected results. 

Is it really just about the web design and the CMS? Loading and updating content? Open-source or SaaS? Is a website just a website? Very unlikely. There is something behind, something bigger or more valuable for your clients. They want to address and solve their marketing, sales, consumer experiences, logistics, membership, PR challenges they face in their everyday business. Websites can and do provide solutions for those and many other challenges. Is it safe to assume that clients actually don't care what platform you use, no matter how great you think it is?

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Clients are technology agnostic

Agnostic yes, ignorant no. As said before, a B2B buyer gets more and more educated and knows a lot about what is it they want to achieve with their online presence. If not already decided on a specific platform, anything is a possibility. How many clients do you stumble upon that say: “I want Drupal.” My guess, not all of them. As they are becoming more and more educated they know that whatever technology they decide for, it will work. On a technological level that is, because there is no difference between open-source or proprietary systems if we focus ourselves only on their technological capabilities. 
So how to engage your client to talk non-technology? Imagine your clients says: "We need to update the content on our website by ourselves?" You could say: "Great, Drupal does that." And that is it. Literally. Some of them could even say, OK, let's go with that. More likely, very few of them. 

 

What is missing then?

The what's, the why's, the when's, the who's,... You want a blog? Why? You need some marketing automation system? Who for? You would like to integrate the marketing automation system with your CRM? When? Those are just a few questions to demonstrate how to open up the client to talk about what they really want. Current website doesn't serve its function which was to generate leads for the marketing team which didn't have the proper marketing automation tool to engage those leads, convert them into prospects so they could be passed to the sales department. So the bottom line is, the client wants the website to generate more customers. And those customers are very valuable as they are the ones generating revenue for the company.And herein lies the real business opportunity for your agency. Are you asking those questions? They might come off as a little bit strange, but they serve at least two purposes. You are reassuring your clients you give a damn about their business by wanting to know all this. Secondly, you get to the bottom of what the clients really needs and most likely you will be able to sell your services for a higher price. 

How valuable are your services to you? Enough to stop talking about the technology and focus on client's needs and wishes?

We worked with over 80 happy clients (happy because they come back) and when talking to them we get as many different insights as we have clients about how they are selling Drupal. Contact us, we can talk about some of them and maybe give you some ideas how things could be done differently.

Nov 13 2017
Nov 13

When starting to talk with a potential client both parties are to some extent unaware what one has to offer and what the other can expect. It is of vital importance you define and manage expectations in such a manner both parties will be satisfied with results. In the next couple of paragraphs, I will outline our approach to setting expectations right up until the day the onboarding process takes place. If all checkboxes up to that point were marked, the developer won’t have any issues when working with the client. 

What do we have to offer

In my previous blog posts, I did write about ways AGILEDROP helps digital agencies, how we can get involved, and what we bring to the table. Because our developers integrate as our clients teammates their way of doing things doesn’t have to change. And it shouldn’t. That’s the whole point of integrating as a teammate, that nothing changes for the existing team. They will still use the same tools, the project management process will still be the same as one day ago, even daily and weekly timetables will stay the same. Yeah, the team got a new member whose job is not to disrupt the existing codes of conduct but to comply with them and deliver quality code. Communicate, ask questions, seek solutions to challenges, provide feedback, etc. This is what the client gets.

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What the client expects

Things get a little bit tricky at this stage. There are various types of clients we are dealing with, the most typical being the following:

  1. There are clients which don’t outsource. Or they never did. But something happened, let’s say they have a couple of projects they still want to work on but no in-house capacities. So they start looking around for possible solutions.
  2. Then there are clients who did use some kind of outsourcing solution in the past and it did work out fine, but for the project at hand, their usual freelancer or a team of freelancers is unavailable.
  3. We also have clients which have experience working with freelancers or some other outsourcing company but it didn’t go that well. The work wasn’t done on time or the quality of the code was bad. Those clients will have a hard time trusting another outsourcing company or a freelancer.
  4. Of course, there are also clients (especially the bigger ones) who worked with a lot of freelancers but eventually realized it is hard to manage 20 freelancers with every one of them having their own way of doing things. 
  5. And there are definitely clients which don’t outsource. Never. Never did and never will. 

Different clients, different expectations

True. Those are different clients but that doesn't mean they have to have different expectations about how it is working with us. After all, they all get the same service. Getting all those different clients with various assumptions about working with us on the same denominator is not exactly easy. Getting an answer to a question what does a client expect from having a meeting with us is the first step. Equally important is what does the client expect from working with us. 

So the common ground for all of the above clients would be what do they get from us. That is simple. They get a developer who works exclusively and full-time for as long as they need. The developer uses their tools, follows their processes, and becomes their teammate. They can expect that and more from us. But what can we expect from them? It is very important to know as much as possible about clients and their needs, wishes expectations. So we ask questions, a lot of them. Some of the most important are:

  1. When do you see, hypothetically, we could be starting working together? 
  2. How long are the projects we are talking about? Development wise, average and minimal.
  3. What type of developers would you need to extend your team? Back-end or front-end?
  4. What are the additional skills you expect the developer is familiar with?
  5. What tools do you use for communication and project management?
  6. Do you follow any specific methodology like Scrum or Kanban and how does the PM process look like?

Answers to those questions steer us in the right direction. 

What unexpected expectations can clients have

The most obvious answer would be none. It is our job to anticipate everything. So how we do discover what are the expectations of aforementioned five different client types. The client which never ever outsources expects nothing. Really, they expect nothing or very little. But sometimes they do recognize a value in our services. Not maybe for them. And in the case, there is a value also for them, maybe not now. And we do know how to talk to them to get familiar with those expectations. The client who never outsourced before, but has come to the point it will have to, has quite high expectations. 

And rightly so, because all of our clients need to have high expectations from working with us. And there are some issues that bother clients like these, who just don't trust a service like that could be equally good to what they are doing in-house. Trust is also a vital component of clients who do have good past experiences and for the clients who have bad experiences dealing with freelancers or outsourcing companies. For the latter, it is very hard to trust someone new when they have burned themselves already. The former already have this trust somehow built in them, but changing their preferred supplier is always a bit stressful. And then there are the big clients which need to rationalize the way they are doing business. It is not sustainable working with 20 different freelancers at the same time when they could be working with three or four companies which could provide experienced developers.

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Set goals, be honest and communicate

Those are not the only one but probably the three basic tenets of managing client expectations. Setting goals and creating a detailed plan for a project is a must. What to do and when to do. Be upfront about what are you capable to accomplish. And communicate by asking questions, providing feedback, suggesting next steps. But in the end clients expectations have to be inline with our expectations. By being agile - not just in the sense of a method of project management but also in the sense of being able to act quickly and easily - we get to the bottom of clients expectations and ensure that by the time the onboarding process takes place all of the questions are addressed and resolved.

We are very straightforward about what our clients can expect from us. Share us your expectations and we will find a way to meet them.

Nov 06 2017
Nov 06

Even though I have been with AGILEDROP for little over than three months now, I already found myself in a situation when two of our potential clients were on the verge of declining their clients. The reasons for that were different, I'll go into more detail later. The agencies we approached differed in size, one being bigger (more than 50 people) the other smaller (less than 10 people). And the challenges they faced were also different. As you will see we could help both of them, but in the end, only one of the agencies trusted us that we are capable of delivering. 

From a simple straightforward issue...

I will share the story of a smaller agency first. We started talking about how to work together and very soon the client came to us with a brief for a project. They should act quickly but they didn't have the necessary skills in-house to develop a Drupal 8 module. But we had. I informed our potential client that we checked the brief and that we are fully capable of delivering the module. An almost frantic exchange of emails stopped when our potential client informed me, that they declined the project. Knowing that we would be totally comfortable to work with them and deliver on time. 

The reasons for declining the project were related to time restraint issues. I guess it might not even be the development area that prevented the agency to sign the contract. It might have as well been the project management or something else. Either way, I believe that the agency could and should seize the opportunity and pass the development work on us and through that free up some of the in-house resources. What would be needed is just a little bit of trust that we can deliver. 

... to a complex project

Let's move now to the second case. This agency was bigger its clients more known, and also the projects the agency was working on were more complex and large-scaled. We approached the agency and again started to discuss the terms of our possible cooperation. They did disclose us they have some great contracts in the pipeline, just waiting to sign them and start working. And yes, they would definitely need someone to help them out in the development area. Great, we will definitely be the right fit for your needs also. Days, weeks passed by, and there is this strange silence from the potential client. No replies to emails, no replies to phone calls. You know it right away that something is off. Something has happened. After a month we do manage to get a feedback from our potential client. 

What happened? As we found out later the client was very close to making a decision to pass on the project. They lacked developers who could be dedicated to working on the project. Shelving it for a couple of months was not an option for the client, so there was no other option than passing on the contract. Yes, our potential client did need a team of developers to be working on the aforementioned project, which was unfortunately unavailable at the time. But it was a big project with a possibility of an up-sell. Lively debate ensued at our client’s office and they did manage to decide to trust us and the team we selected to integrate. They needed a team of two back-end developers and one front-end developer. Which could be provided by us. A team working from the same office with a defined team-lead and project management done from our client's side. Our client made some minor adjustments to be prepared for the onboarding of our three developers. In the end, trusting us, paid off. Not just for them, but also for us. They got a long-time client, and our client got a long-time development partner.

 

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To sum it up

There are different kinds of projects, contracts. There are the "one-timers" and then there are the big contracts with options of up-sell and/or cross-sell. Maintenance, support, migration, upgrades quite often come in the package with big projects and thus could present a significant revenue. 

For us, all these projects are the same. We know how to handle them. And you can rely on us to deliver on time and within budget. I have said it before, there are numerous reasons why someone passes on a contract/project, don't let the challenges you feel you have in the development area be the reason for declining or bowing out of the project. There is always someone available in our company who can build a custom module in D8 or someone who has experience working with Drupal Commerce or you actually need a team of developers to work with someone from your team to deliver. 

As quite often is the case, the communication, or the lack thereof, could lead to some bad decisions. When you face a resourcing challenge, you have to remember that it is a challenge, not Mt. Everest you should climb in a couple of months. And challenges as such quite often do have a simple and working solution. Get in touch, we dealt with all kinds of challenges in the past and know how to cope with and overcome them. 

Oct 30 2017
Oct 30

The history and future

There is this digital agency which has specialized itself in Drupal a couple of years ago. Let’s call it Gr8 Solutions. And the business is very good, they signed some fancy contracts with some of the biggest companies in the country over the years and thus built themselves a reputation for being professional and creative. And in the process of acquiring new clients and new projects they were steadily growing. This also resulted in hiring a few new developers, a designer, and a salesperson.

Fast forward to very near future, nothing memorable happened in the meantime. Everything was running smooth, more big contracts were won so the agency had the privilege to even choose the clients they want to work with. Passing on some smaller projects which are not so profitable. Somewhere along the way, a decision was accepted: “Hey if we are good enough for companies in our country, why wouldn't we cast our net a tad further? To neighboring countries, or even overseas?”

And it turned out to be a good move. The sales had its job done, and suddenly there were a lot of projects to work on. And the new clients were the ones you just don't say no to them. 

We are getting bigger, what now?

The founders, developers by profession and heart, who gradually took on other roles in the company, were suddenly not available anymore to code. They were dealing with administration, HR, sales, legal, marketing ... And not so much with coding. So in the process of building a company from initial 5 persons to a much bigger company with 21 people in it, some of the challenges which were lurking somewhere in the dark were overseen.

One of them being attracting, employing and keeping (top) Drupal talent. 

What are some of the alternatives?

At my first Drupalcon in Vienna, I learned from agency CEOs and CTOs that the biggest challenges agencies face is not the sales but the lack of aforementioned talent. You virtually have to build it from the grounds up. 

Yes, you could snatch a developer from another agency. I wonder how that will work out. You could be looking for that talent in some other country and wait for the person who will be willing to allocate and work from your office. Or you could use freelancers to work with you. There are plenty possibilities you could try to confront with the fact that your company is a developer or two short because there are projects you could be working on right now. It is true that some clients understand and are willing to postpone or push their projects a couple of months down the line. But there is always this impending threat present that things will get cluttered up really bad. Especially, if no thoughtful planning in place.

working

We will do it our way

The founders decide they have to sit down, do some brainstorming and come up with a solution for resourcing challenges they are facing for quite some time now but were always capable to somehow manage it. They decide they will "make" their own developers from scratch. And are fully aware that this will take some time. A bold, but a correct move. They decided they will start with two juniors, developers which do have some experience in coding, but none in Drupal. And assign them one of the senior developers to train and mentor them. Even though that also means pulling this developer from working on clients' projects. But they see it as an investment in their team, and rightly so. In a year, at most, the agency will have two new developers, who by then should be confident enough to independently work on projects. 

Nevertheless, in the meantime, you will have to find a solution how to “replace” the senior developer who will take on the role of a tutor to juniors. We can help you when you decide to grow the in-house team. Our intention is never to somehow impede the process of growing and developing your company but to assist in this process. And give you a hand when shelving projects - even with client’s approval - could eventually lead to becoming very difficult to manage and delaying the completion dates even more. 

If you would like to find out more about how we are growing our in-house team and help other agencies with integrating our developers into their teams to overcome resourcing challenges, please contact us
 

Oct 23 2017
Oct 23

When talking about projects, regardless of their size or complexity, one will go through a couple of phases of project management. Let’s say there are five phases of project management: 

  • project conception and initiation; 
  • project definition and planning; 
  • project launch or execution; 
  • project performance and control; 
  • project close. 

Although each of those phases has its distinct qualities, they do overlap. And rightly so. 

Planning for unplanned events

Planning does start with estimating the budget and completion date, but the planning and defining the project sets the fundamentals on which you build. What is the challenge which should be solved, who will be involved in the process, and what will each member of the project team do. 
Not to underestimate any of the phases but determining the scope, resources and tasks are of vital importance. Consequently, some of the projects fail because they bite off more than they can chew and, of course by doing that, underestimate the time needed for a completion of the project or the budget available. Detailed and thoughtful planning should give a result. First, how many people and with what skills you will need for your project. And also, you will get a sense of duration of the project. 

project management

 

What about quality

Developing a website for a client has few potential pitfalls. Things can go wrong, and they do go wrong, but that is nothing to worry about. You should be covered if you planned thoughtfully. You are aware of the budget, you have set yourself a deadline with maybe a couple of weeks of a buffer, so you are OK. You meet with your client to discuss the project, and as does happen quite often, you are informed something has changed. You would need to speed up the project and deliver the “end product” sooner. But not risking the quality. So you have less time, the same amount of money and the same quality requirements. It is a great client, so you do have to deliver.

What are the alternatives

If and when that happens, there are a couple of possible solutions. The deadline is closer, so you have no other option than to bring in more manpower to handle the tasks ahead. You can do that because the budget is the same, the quality requirements are still high, so you have no other option than to move in the direction of adding extra people to your team(s). You look in your own company, but you soon run out of options. Everyone else is busy and working on their projects. A few are free, but they are not a (perfect) fit for the requirements of the tasks ahead. You could sacrifice time and money to train them and build skills they are lacking. You could wait to free up developers. But the deadline is getting closer and closer. You could reach out to a freelancer, but none of them you worked with before is available now. Maybe in a couple of weeks, months.

project management aspects

 

Or, you could trust A-team

Quality = time + money. A simple equation, by changing one of these variables you change the outcome. Less money means less time means a downgraded version of a product. With developing a website that could mean functionalities would be limited, but according to the client, that is not an option. Something has to be done in the middle of the project. And that something is adding extra personnel to the team which is working on that website. No one is available in-house, so there is no other option than to look for external help. I bet you think it is tricky to get someone onboard in the middle of the project, even more so, when that someone is not a part of your agency. But we know that this is not a big deal. We know that we can join your team in the middle of the project. Or at the beginning and/or at the end for that matter. We know what to do to keep the aforementioned equation in balance. We know how to use tools and processes that enable us a smooth interaction with our clients no matter where are they based. And how do we know all these things? It is what we do. And judging by the fact A-team is growing, we’re good at it.

We proved over and over again that it is possible to join our client’s team during various stages of project maturity on a very short notice and deliver on time and within budget. I believe this is one of our stronger qualities, a quality our clients can always rely on. Get in touch if you ever could use help in that area.
 

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